Monday 15 January 2018

The Blues VII

Image: Cláudio Dias Timm
Porphyrospiza caerulescens
Uh oh! It's that time of year again when all looks lost, all looks cold, all looks... blue. Blue Monday strikes again. The attic groans under the weight of Christmas decorations already laden with a thin layer of dust. Christmas gifts have lost their lustre and joined the rest of your belongings as mere possessions cluttering your life. And if you don't follow through with your New Year's resolutions this time, you'll have to get a new Christmas jumper to ease over that ever-expanding belly.

But worry not! Or continue worrying, just be sure to do it with friends. Friends like the Blue Finch.

Blue Finches are found in Brazil and a tiny patch of neighbouring Bolivia. They shun the Amazon rainforest that every other blessed thing seems to adore so much and reside instead in the Cerrado, a huge savannah region that takes up a good 20% of Brazilian land.

Savannahs are characterised by their trees being widely spaced enough that lots of light can reach the floor, giving rise to loads of grass and plants in between the trunks. This is useful because Blue Finches build their nests in shrubs rather than up tree branches. Females are well-camouflaged with their stripy brown colour and so are males, usually. Only in the breeding season does the male Blue Finch acquire his gorgeous, cobalt blue plumage.

The blues says: let's get it on.


Image: Tarique Sani
Agama mwanzae
Mwanza Flat-headed Rock Agama
This poor lizard was bitten by a radioactive Spider-Man! What was Mr Parker thinking? Either that or a lizard bit a radioactive spider. It could go either way, really.

The Mwanza Flat-headed Rock Agama lives in dry, semidesert areas of Eastern Africa, specifically Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya. They spend a fair bit of time basking in the sun but are quick to hide in rocky crevices when they get too hot or if predators get their spidey sense tingling.

Image: David d'O / Schaapmans
Does some of the things a spider can
Unfortunately, they lack all web-slinging abilities, which isn't surprising given that even Spider-Man had to construct web-slinging gadgetry using his brain and opposable thumbs. Which makes you wonder why no one else has made their own versions. Imagine a web-slinging Doctor Octopus! Anyway, Rock Agamas remain expert climbers, easily scrambling over rocks and boulders. They use their power to prey on spiders and insects, and their responsibility to snack on berries and seeds. It's important to eat your greens.

Only the males wear these superheroic colours, the females being a much more drab brown which helps them hide in the rocky areas they call home. What can I say? The blues like to stand out.


Image: Malte
Decaisnea insignis
Dead Man's Fingers
Oh dear. Someone got himself in trouble. From Roman crucifixion to Vlad the Impaler, from witch burnings and lynchings to guillotines and heads on spikes, gory executions and the display of corpses has always been used as a morbid warning to others. "Don't let this happen to you," says the grimacing cadaver. Or was it the crow pecking at his eyeball?

Either way, those poorly-treated corpses seldom taste of watermelon.

Image: Malte
Dead Man's Fingers, also more pleasantly known as the Blue Bean Shrub, lives close to the Himalayas in western China, Bhutan, Nepal and northeastern India. They can reach some 8 metres (25 ft) tall with 90 cm (3 ft) long leaves split up into one or two dozen leaflets. Needless to say, they're hardy plants that can tolerate the freezing temperatures that must be endured at altitudes of over 1,000 metres (3,300 ft).

Inconspicuous flowers bloom in the summer, each one looking like a little, drooping bell. Alas, they're no bluebells, more like greenbells. They make up for it when the fruits develop into misshapen, miscoloured, 10 cm (4 in) long sausages. A kind of seam runs down the entire length and can be easily unzipped to reveal jelly-like pulp and black seeds. Apparently, it tastes quite delicious, sweet and subtle with a hint of watermelon or cucumber.


Image: John Tann
Blepharotes spendidissimus
Giant Blue Robber Fly
Robber Flies are some of my favourite flies! Make it giant AND blue and that's multiplications of greatness.

This BEAST of the sky comes from eastern Australia where, like other Robber Flies, she uses her massive eyes to spot prey flying overhead. She gives chase, wings buzzing like an engine as she pounces on her prey. But powerful insects like dragonflies and grasshoppers don't go down without a fight. The Robber Fly grabs hold with thick, muscular legs as her prey kicks and struggles, angry mandibles flaring. A moustache of spines protects her head as she pierces exoskeleton with pointed mouth-parts and injects venom. The battle is finally over.

Video: Naturwunder

Then the Robberfly returns to her perch to suck out those delicious innards.

The only difference here is that these guys get up to 2.5 cm (an inch) long with a 4 cm (1.6 in) wingspan. Also, they have a golden moustache. Also, they have a foreboding, dark blue exoskeleton. What's not to love? Or at least respect. From far away, maybe?


Image: Janzen, Peter
Herpele squalostoma
Congo Caecilian
Caecilians are surely the weirdest of all the amphibians, although that might just be because we've all grown accustomed to frogs. I mean, frogs! Look at them, they're... OK, never mind.

The Congo Caecilian comes from western Africa where it burrows in sandy soils near to rivers. It's well adapted to life underground, with tiny eyes protected beneath translucent skin and a pair of tentacles between eyes and nose which help them sniff out earthworms and other subterranean prey.

Not much else is known about the Congo Caecilian, though it's likely—yes, likely—that the mother protects her brood of eggs and allows the hatchlings to eat her skin. Don't say the blues never makes sarifices.


Image: Stephen Childs
Pseudoceros bifurcus
Racing Stripe Flatworm
You can see it's racing because of that cool go-faster stripe.

This beautiful, sky blue creature is a flatworm. And that means it's Flat. Extremely flat. I guess that's obvious but I think it bears emphasising. Nothing is allowed to get in the way of this uncompromising flatness, least of all things like bones or internal organs. They don't even have tentacles. Instead, they have pointed folds on one end known as pseudotentacles. It's basically origami.

The Racing Stripe Flatworm glides over coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific, seeking out sea squirts to feast upon. They do so without fear, their bright colours serving to warn predators of their toxic unpalatability. No one messes with the blues.


Image: Brian Yap (葉)
Cortinarius violaceus
Violet Webcap
This handsome mushroom grows in hardwood and conifer forests across the northern hemisphere. They can grow to a height of 15 cm (6 in) with a cap up to 12 cm (5 in) across and every inch is blue, blue-grey or violet, becoming dark brown and almost black over time.

The Violet Webcap is one of those mushrooms that live in symbiosis with trees. The actual mushroom is just a fruiting body, a means for the fungus to shed its spores into the wind, hoping that some will fall on fertile soil and thrive.

Image: Borch3kawki
The rest of the fungus is called the mycelium and lives underground, looking like a web of fine roots. This mycelium grows all over the roots of nearby trees and, in return for sugars derived from the sun, the fungus provides the tree valuable nutrients.

Mighty oaks are dependant on this secret barter system. When you speak of the potential of acorns and the gnarled majesty of their elders, don't forget to peer into the shadows for their humble trading partners. Maybe one of them is blue?


Image: Saspotato
Paraplesiops meleagris
Southern Blue Devil
Do you dare gaze upon the Blue Devil of the South, cloaked in night skies woven into the form of a fish, speckled by the stars, glorious fins billowing in the currents of time like shreds of a lost universe?

You should because he looks lovely.

Image: Saspotato
The Southern Blue Devil resides in the dark reefs and caves that cling to the southern shore of a distant land known as Australia. A blighted land, this Australia, each cardinal direction ruled by a brother demon—the Western Blue Devil, almost identical to his Southern twin; the Eastern Blue Devil clad in white stripes and sunray fins; the Northern Blue Devil, mostly brown. If a hero can fell the Four Cardinals, Alison's Blue Devil awaits, her face poxed with blue. Only then may a mighty adventurer gain an audience with Alison herself, and plead the case of all creation.

Having said all that, the Southern Blue Devil is only about 35 cm (14 in) long and males are known to guard the eggs laid by his mate. Even the most devilish of blues are all about family.


Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2015 Hohonu Moana
Blue Comb Jelly
This beauty was discovered in deep waters off the coast of Hawaii. It's undescribed—scientifically I mean. We can all describe it as vibrantly blue, a sapphire of the deeps, a living jewel hidden in Earth's rudely water-filled chasms, and so on, but scientists save that kind of language for their poetry sessions.

It's a Comb Jelly, which means it swims through the sea using eight rows of cilia. And it's a cydippid Comb Jelly, which means it catches prey using a pair of sticky, branching tentacles. Aside from that, little is known about this species. Sometimes the blues likes to keep its secrets close to its sparkling chest. Even when it doesn't have a chest.


Emily said...

Beautiful creatures, all. That bird is bluer than a bluebird! It looks like a real-life Twitter mascot.

Joseph JG said...

It's weird when real things look unrealistic!